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The 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition, spearheaded by the California Academy of Sciences, is in full swing.

“The 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition is the largest expedition undertaken by the Academy. It will be the first expedition to make a comprehensive survey of both terrestrial and marine diversity. Between April 26 and June 10, 2011, Academy botanists, entomologists and marine biologists, will explore shallow-water reefs, the deep sea, and terrestrial and freshwater areas for new life and document the biodiversity of this island nation. Educational outreach will be conducted on location and back at the Academy.” (http://www.calacademy.org/science/hearst/)

Joining the Academy’s expedition team are researchers from the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, Philippine National Museum and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. The expedition is also being organized with groups like Conservation International-Philippines, Pusod, and Philippine Science Centrum.  Research areas include the Verde Island Passage, Mt. Makiling, Mt. Isarog and Taal Lake.

Right now, the expedition’s shallow water team members are based in Mabini, Batangas and are finding all sorts of amazing underwater creatures, a number of which are new species! For regular updates, visit the expedition blog at http://www.calacademy.org/blogs/expedition/

In the meantime check out this video of spawning corals that the team was able to document!

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Dr. Kent Carpenter, a well-known marine biologist and fish taxonomist called the coral reefs of the Verde Island Passage as the Amazon of the Sea. The Philippines he said (VIP in particular), was the centre of the centre of marine biodiversity.

The Philippines, with Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands, form the Coral Triangle. The Coral Triangle was said to be the centre of marine biodiversity as it holds more than 30% of the world’s coral reefs. Over 600 coral species and 3,000 reef fish species are found in the Coral Triangle. Whereas, the Philippines and Indonesia has been dubbed as the top two countries with reefs with the highest biodiversity.

Coral reefs play important ecological and economical roles. It serves as buffer zone that protects coastlines from wave action and erosion. It is one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems. It plays a crucial role on fishery production as it also serves as a nursery, feeding ground and important habitat to various species of reef fishes and other invertebrates. They provide various livelihood opportunities from fisheries to tourism.

Coral reefs are also one of the most sensitive ecosystems. They are limited by depth and thrive in well lit, shallow waters of the tropical oceans. They do not thrive in areas with high sediment inputs, because they are prone to smothering. They are sensitive to temperature, thus they are bound in equatorial waters by the 20 °C isotherm. The optimal reef development occurs in waters where in the mean annual temperature ranges from 23 to 25 °C. They are intolerant to significant changes in salinity that is why they are absent in areas such as river mouths due to the high freshwater influx.

The Coral Triangle is one of the top priorities of research and conservation actions to date. This is due to the Southeast Asian nations that continue to face development and exploitation pressures, despite the awareness of coral reefs’ ecological and economic importance. To date, common threats are due to human activities that are hardly mitigated. It may not be as rampant as it used to be decades ago, but coral reefs are still threatened by illegal fishing methods, pollution, land-based activities and coral and reef fish harvesting for aquarium fishery. Adding more stress is the impending threats of climate change.

Acropora monostand in Mauban, Quezon

Bleaching used to be a major threat as it wiped out large areas of reefs during the mass bleaching event in 1997 to 1998. Bleaching occurs due to the increase in sea surface temperatures. Another cause of bleaching that is being considered is increased irradiance or light exposure. Increases in both temperature and irradiance during hot periods disrupt the photosynthetic symbionts of the corals – the zooxanthellae, by inhibiting photosynthesis and other stress processes.

Scientists recently have seen that other climate change effects apart from irradiance and increased sea surface temperatures that have deleterious effects on coral reefs are increasing strength and frequency of storms, and ocean acidification. Storms and typhoons cause physical damage to reefs. Where as ocean acidification, or decrease in seawater pH, inhibits coral calcification and thus damages the corals’ skeletal structure and resilience.

Damaging coral communities will result to a shift to algal dominance. Reef fishes and other invertebrates will lose their habitat and shelter. Modelling studies have shown that in worst case scenarios, local extinctions of sensitive, rare and highly specialised species will occur. Eventually this will become global in scale. Other fishes and invertebrates will have reduced population sizes which will lead to reduced reproduction and recruitment and longer recovery times. Ultimately, the ecosystems will become less ecologically complex, which will result to reduction of biodiversity. Reduction on biodiversity, will then lead to the loss of ecosystem services, which will lessen livelihood opportunities and sources.

As Filipinos, our responsibility for our natural resources should not just end in awe and being proud that our country is rich in biodiversity and natural resources. We need to get more involved as time is running out. It is not yet too late to do something. We should not depend on foreign organisations, international and local scientists and environmental advocates to do all the studying and lobbying. We as a society should think that we still want younger generations to continue to be proud that our country’s coral reefs are considered an equal to the Amazon Forest.

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Note: If you have any queries, please include your email address in your comments so that I would be able to write to you personally. And please write in English or Filipino. I could read Spanish, Portugese, and a bit of French, but I prefer English. Thanks! – V

References:

Carpenter, K. et al. 2008. One-third of reef-building corals face elevated extinction risk from climate change and local impacts. Science. 321: 560-563.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O. 1999. Climate change, coral bleaching and the future of the

world’s coral reefs. Mar. Freshwater Res. 50: 839-866.

Hoegh-Guldberg, O., P.J. Mumby, A.J. Hooten, R.S. Steneck, P. Greenfield, E. Gomez,

C.D. Harvell, P.F. Sale, A.J. Edwards, K. Caldeira, N. Knowlton, C.N, Eakin, R.

Iglesias-Prieto, N. Muthiga, R.H. Bradbury, A. Dubi, M.E. Hatziolos.  2007. Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science. 318: 1737-1742

IPCC, 2001: Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, 881pp.

Wilkinson, C.R. 2000. Status of coral reefs of the world. Australian Institute of Marine Science. Cape Ferguson, Queensland. 376 p.

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I came across two articles from the GMA news feed several weeks ago, both about the establishment of proposed renewable energy power plants and the opposition they presently face from local constituents. While the articles are not as recent, the issues they present are ever as fresh. I quote them both at some length here:

Class suit vs. geothermal project in Kanlaon filed

MANILA, Philippines — At least 200 people, including children, will lodge before the Bacolod Regional Trial Court Wednesday a petition to stop the Energy Development Corp. (EDC) from entering the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (MKNP) buffer zone for geothermal development.

…the petitioners’ lawyer Andrea Si said they would seek a temporary retraining order and a permanent injunction on the EDC move. Si said the petitioners remain opposed to the tapping of geothermal power from the buffer zone and to the purchase of power for Negros Occidental from a coal-fired plant in Cebu.

They said government and the business sector should push for alternative renewable power, such as hydro, solar and wind, and should not compromise what little is left of the province’s forest.

…Si said the class suit will ask the court to stop EDC from entering the buffer zone because of questions on the constitutionality of Republic Act 9154, which established MKNP as a protected area and a peripheral area as a buffer zone. The suit will also question the Energy Development Corporations’ (EDC) Environment Compliance Certificate and the firm’s plan to drill for geothermal energy from the buffer zone to the MKNP protected area.

…Tapping 40 megawatts of geothermal power from the buffer zone is not worth destroying irreplaceable rich biodiversity in the area, she added.

Energy officials earlier warned that Negros Occidental no longer has reserve power and its power shortage will worsen by 2010 if it does not have new sources of energy in place by then.

Cooperative eyes P2.8 hydro plant

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — An electric cooperative here plans to build a 20-megawatt hydropower plant in Lake Sebu, the tourism capital of South Cotabato province, as it anticipates a supply shortage in the area two to three years from now.

Santiago C. Tudio, general manager of the South Cotabato Electric Cooperative said, “…the generated power from the waters of the Seven Falls of Lake Sebu will be used to supply the power requirement of South Cotabato in anticipation of the power shortage…” Mr. Tudio said a hydropower plant is safer than a coal-fired power plant.

But Sangguniang Panlalawigan member Jose M. Madanguit, chairman of the environment committee, said residents of Lake Sebu would oppose the project due to concerns about biodiversity. This could affect the area’s eco-tourism potentials and might displace the T’boli tribe.

But Mr. Tudio said a hydropower plant is the best option given the rising cost of diesel fuel. A hydropower plant is also more environment-friendly than one fired by coal, he pointed out.

Lake Sebu’s mountains are rich in coal pursued by several mining firms. But the local electric cooperative here, Mr. Tudio said, prefers a hydropower plant given the town’s abundant water resources. Lake Sebu is home to waterfalls and several lakes.

Mindanao has a generating capacity of 1,850 megawatts, but the dependable capacity is only 1,520 megawatts. Peak demand is projected to hit 1,440 megawatts this year. Industry regulations, however, require the Mindanao grid to maintain a reserve capacity of at least 23.4% of its generating capacity. Peak demand for power supply by 2015 is expected to hit 1,750 megawatts.

At the onset, I can recognize the potential benefits that the introduction of power sources—let alone renewable energy sources—will bring to these areas. Not only does it provide electricity for communities that did not used to have it, it can also augment the much needed energy demands of the province or the region. Communities that used to rely on diesel generators running for just several hours in a given day can now enjoy continuous power supply. Power generation can stimulate trade; refrigeration, for example, is now made possible unlike before when it was too costly to run on generators, and consequently, perishable goods like fish and other meats can now be stored longer periods and stocked more for mass volume trading in the market. The scales of production increase as a consequence, which in turn enhances the livelihoods of people.

Apart from the tangible benefits of electricity to local communities, the generated power to begin with is cleaner; it comes from cleaner energy sources such as geothermal plumes or hydropower, as opposed to coal-fired plants which emit harmful CO2 into the atmosphere. The national government presently promotes the shift to cleaner, renewable energy sources in pursuit of its commitment to mitigate global climate change. By utilizing these cleaner energy sources, not only is the country’s carbon emissions reduced, but so is its dependence on imported oil for power generation minimized; thereby, lowering the risks of its constituents to inflation and food price hikes due to exorbitant oil price surges.

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The July 7/14 issue of Newsweek featured Yale University’s 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI)—“a global ranking of nations with the best, and worst, environmental track records,” the magazine cover said. Curious as to how the Philippines fared, and wanting to find out the “who’s who” in the best and worst around the world, I bought a copy after briefly browsing through the contents (and initially finding out the Philippines scored somewhere between the range of 79.99 to 70, with 100 being highest).

I learned after poring over the special report, and reading further from Yale’s website, that the EPI sought to be a comprehensive yardstick of the world’s environmental issues and how each country was responding to them. Although considering the EPI as far from being entirely an accurate measure of national performance, Newsweek stated it as the “best measure we have of how nations are faring in the battle to save the environment…” The EPI provided measures for two objectives, specifically: (1) reducing environmental stresses to human health, and (2) promoting ecosystem vitality and sound natural resource management. It used 25 performance indicators which were tracked in 6 well-established policy categories such as climate change, biodiversity and habitat, water, air pollution, productive natural resources, and environmental health.
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(Polillo, Quezon)… The Polillo Group of Islands, also known as the Pollillo Archipelago, is probably unknown to many because of its isolation from the mainland of Luzon. Facing the Pacific Ocean, 25 kilometers east of Luzon, the archipelago is usually only heard of during news updates of weather disturbances. This group of islands is comprised of 27 islands and islets belonging to five municipalities: Polillo, Burdeos and Panukulan, which occupy the mainland, and the two island municipalities of Patnanungan and Jomalig .

The island got its name from the Chinese “Pu-li-lu”, which means “an island with plenty of food.” It is an apt name because aside from the abundance of seafood, the islands also boast of amazing terrestrial resources some of which can be found nowhere else in the Philippines, much less the whole world. This richness has drawn a lot of interest in the scientific community, and numerous scientific studies have been conducted in this part of the country since early last century.

About a three-hour boat ride from the municipality of Real in Quezon, the Polillo towns are typically rural, with no permanent and regular public utility buses and jeepneys plying the routes from one municipality to the other, and the road system not yet well established. The most common mode of transportation is by boat and many residents have to settle for motorcycles as inland transportation. Only few of the settlers here own vehicles, although a lot of houses especially at town centers have already been renovated into big bungalows.

The environment here is quite peaceful and simple with not much opportunities for nightlife. Electricity is available only between two o’clock in the afternoon to six o’clock the following morning. Simple as it may the lifestyle may be, the Polillos have much more to offer, which many of its residents are even unaware of, and these are the rich biological resources found in this part of the country.

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“It’s one of the most important news stories of our time, and it’s breaking right now.”

Go around the world with CNN as CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Animal Planet host and wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin take viewers to four continents and 13 countries, investigating stories of environmental change and witnessing first hand the various ways in which the planet is under attack.

“The environment is more than just a niche news story; it is an issue that affects every living being and warrants greater attention in the press,” Cooper said. “Our goal was to report not only on individual issues but to examine the interconnectivity of environmental changes. Instead of simply delving into academic theories, we set out to document the actual changes taking place that affect the way we live our lives and the choices we make.”

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From the wildlife markets of downtown Bangkok to the depths of the Madagascar jungle to the melting ice sheets of Greenland, Planet in Peril weaves the different stories together and brings unforgettable images of a world that is changing in alarming ways right before our very eyes. These are stories that are worth telling, because in spite of everything, there is still hope, and there are still things that we can do.

The two two-hour programs of Planet in Peril will air in Manila on October 24 and 25 at 9pm.

See videos, take a visual tour, and get other information here.

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My family-run, home-based travel agency’s name is TROJANA World Travel. I love butterflies, so I named the agency after the magnificent birdwing butterfly, the Trogonoptera trojana, found only in Palawan and nowhere else in the world.

After ten years of existence, I have noticed that my agency’s name still has a poor recall among my regular passengers, consolidators, and airline staff. Likewise, in Palawan, when you mention the name Trojana, it does not ring a bell at all even to the locals despite this butterfly being in the midst of their existence for hundreds of years. Only a handful of people, like those who live in the forest areas, know the Trojana very well—although when I ask them if they have heard of the birdwing, they would give me a cautious look and choose to remain mum. But if you nudge them a little more, start being comical, or sound curious but seemingly uninterested, or maybe take their photos for a souvenir shot, they will soon finally start to share and show some specimens of their favorite butterfly catch. Catching Trojana butterflies is a source of livelihood for these mountain folks. They have been trained by butterfly traders on how to easily catch them in the wild, and how to preserve the fragile specimens with chemicals and neatly wrap them in wax paper ready for turnover. They have also been taught to keep silent about their trade.

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